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HRN Original Blog:
Zipse At The Track

Alsab and Whirlaway: A Moment in Time

The date was September 19, 1942. The United States was embroiled in the Second World War and in the world of thoroughbred horse racing; the race of the year was set to go down in America’s smallest state. After Alsab had to be scratched out of an expected meeting with Whirlaway in the rich Narragansett Special a week earlier, a mile and three-sixteenths, $25,000 match race at Narragansett Park was created to test the two champions.


It was truly a meeting of horses from opposite sides of the track. On the one hand you had Whirlaway, not always the easiest horse to work with, but nonetheless, a defending Horse of the Year, former Triple Crown winner, and the current star of the powerhouse Calumet Farm. His opposition was Alsab, a $700 purchase with less than regal bloodlines. The diminutive runner needed ten starts to win his first stakes race, but through nearly constant racing for two seasons, was in position, like Whirlaway, to become a two-time champion.


The previous year, Alsab earned the two-year-old championship for Chicago owner, Albert Sabath, in large part to a ten race winning streak that finished off an ambitious 22 race campaign, and included a seven length romp in the Champagne. Meanwhile the headstrong Whirlaway, aka Mr. Longtail, had put things together just in time for legendary trainer, Ben Jones, to sweep America’s Triple Crown in fantastic fashion.


In 1942, both horses were far from unbeatable, but had proven to be at the tops of their respective divisions. Alsab had won several stakes, including a Preakness score, and second place finishes in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont. Whirlaway’s patented rally had become a certainty, and he either won or had been closing fast in all of his races while often carrying heavy imposts. With a win a few months earlier in the Mass ‘Cap he had surpassed Seabiscuit as racing’s all-time money winner.


The Rhode Island match race turned out to be one of our nation’s greatest races. As expected, Alsab took the early lead and opened up nearly three lengths midway through the challenge. Whirlaway, the 3-10 betting choice, would not give up without a fight, however. Mr. Longtail, under George Woolf, drew abreast Alsab with a powerful rally with more than an eighth of a mile still to run. Alsab was resolute though, as the two champions sprinted to the wire. Whirlaway was still gaining as the two hit the Narragansett finish line, but not quite fast enough. After a mile and three-sixteenths of thrilling action, the photo finish camera separated the two warriors by a nose, with Alsab the winner.























The two great champions would go on to have two more meetings. Both in New York, Whirlaway would again spot several pounds to his younger and smaller rival. In the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Whirlaway would earn an important victory over Alsab. The win would help the Calumet star earn his second consecutive Horse of the Year, despite losing to Alsab again in their third meeting, the New York Handicap. Meanwhile, Alsab undoubtedly passed his rival, Shut Out, in the race for the three-year-old championship with his three excellent performances against Whirlaway.


They have long since left this world, Whirlaway in 1953, and Alsab ten years later, and in fact, it’s been more than 33 years since Narragansett Park hosted horse racing, but for just over one minute and fifty-six seconds, together they put on a show that should never be forgotten.


To see a video of the great match race, click here.

The photo was captured from this video.


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Older Comments about Alsab and Whirlaway: A Moment in Time...

Yes Alsab beat Requested from behind. Requested took the lead and Alsab came from behind and beat him. My father was there and took pictures of the race which I still have. Alsab came on in the stretch and won.
Alsab won one.
This like just about all the major match races of the century were, IN EFFECT, over out of the gate. I was there for Tyepcast Convenience at Hollywood and that one was just like Swaps/Nashua, Seabiscuit/War Admiral, Armed/Assault, Zev/Papyrus, Seabiscuit/Ligaroti, ManO'War/ Sir Barton, Capot/Coaltown and every match race within a race: Sunday Silence/Easy Goer, Affirmed/Alydar had one thing in common. Get postion quickly, slow it down and then play cat and cmouse. That is what Leroy Jolley tried to do in Ruffian's match race, and SADLY, it was her undoing. Chris Everett was far out in front of Miss Muskett when the latter quit. I cannot recall a match race that ever was won OFF the pace.
That should read Goods Good and tail male
Though Alsab was sold for about $800 he had a great pedigree. His sire Goods Dood traced back tail to unbeaten Colin, then Commando to Domino. On his dams side he has Fair Play and Ben Brush. His pedigree combined top American bloodlines.
Alsab also won a match race against Requested. I have pictures that my father took at the time showing Requested out first, then Alsab came on and won.
Alsab also won a match race against Requested. I have pictures that my father took at the time showing Requested out first, then Alsab came on and won.
For 70 years my grandfather had a sketch of ALSAB hanging above the mantlepiece - Now I know why $$$$
prototype match race: first out of the gate usually wins them
Thanks, Scott ... me too! It's actually a screencapture off a Youtube video of Narragansett Park. Came out pretty good.
I love this, I love this history of the sport, the golden days. How did you find that win photo? that was awesome. Can't wait to read more.
Can't wait to read more articles about some of the all time greats. Good work Brian
I very much wish I could have visited Narragansett before it closed, Vernon. Thanks buckpasser, I plan to make the celebration of races like this a regular feature on my blog.
Great article. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about Alsab and Whirlaway.
Made many trips to Narragansett Park, yes they were the good old days. It's a shame so many tracks close up and I'm sure more will die in the near future. Great race to watch and sparked memories. Thanks.

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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